Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Friday, September 8, 2017

Running the 2017 San Francisco Marathon

This was to be my 5th full marathon and first on the west coast. My first was the 2014 NJ Marathon and I have run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC the last 3 years (2014 – 2016). I am registered to run Marine Corps again this coming October so if all goes well, for 2017 I will have run two full marathons, same as 2014.

Great scheduling:

The real reason to travel to San Francisco this July was a much more important reason as we were celebrating our daughter’s wedding. It was simple serendipity that when Jess asked us if we could take some time off after the wedding to dog sit for Nala while she and Joe went to Hawaii for their honeymoon.  Well, a free week’s lodging in San Francisco and the chance to help them out and spend time with our grand dog was an easy sale – we were in.  Of course, that’s when I got the brainy idea to check the upcoming race schedule in the Bay Area and lo and behold, Sunday July 23rd was 8 days after the wedding and it was the the 40th annual San Francisco Marathon.  Here's a great idea, let's do that in addition to the wedding ... all in the same trip!


It’s a good thing this wasn’t my first full marathon for numerous reasons. First, because it’s an extremely difficult course and second because I was already comfortable with finding ways to incorporate my training plan into my schedule because the last few months before the wedding were going to have lots of activities and challenges to work around. Once my registration was confirmed, I mapped out my training plan and wove it into life’s schedule.


Event organization

Having run Marine Corps and having attempted to get entry to New York, I am familiar with race entry lottery systems. I was surprised to find this wasn’t the case with San Francisco and I was able to get online, register, pay my fees and confirm my slot very easily.  The registration process was very simple and easy to deal with.

The San Francisco Marathon is one of the events that offers both half and full marathon distances as a part of the event. Uniquely, they also offer options for the half marathon distance; you can choose the first 13.1 or the second. The first 13.1 has the exciting experience of going over and back across the Golden Gate bridge but it is an extremely hilly 13.1 as a serious trade-off.  The second 13.1 also has hilly sections – especially in the beginning through Golden Gate Park – but then the hills subside a bit – at least in comparison to the first half.

Packet pick-up was offered all day Friday and Saturday at the Fort Mason facility. We chose to go on Friday so I could spend Saturday off my feet as much as possible. We used Uber – as we had throughout our time in San Francisco – and the trip to Fort Mason was simple and quick and left us just a short walk from one of our favorite tourist stops for Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista.

Race review:

Starting corrals were very well organized. The race begins very early at 05:30 and each assigned corral has a defined starting time every 15 minutes or so after the elite runners start. My corral began at 06:15 and we indeed began promptly. The start and finish are on the Embarcadero at Justin Herman plaza with lots of room spread out for corrals, restrooms, vendors, etc.

My day started out very early, up at 03:45 to fuel and use the bathroom before taking Uber to the start area. I arrived comfortably by 05:20 or so as the first corral was just about to start. This gave me time to drop off my bag at the UPS bag drop, use the bathroom and eat my Stinger waffle and then do some light stretching before entering the corral.  Considering how dark it is at that hour, we were blessed with good San Francisco weather. It was cool but not cold – perhaps upper 40 degrees. There was a bit of fan support but not a whole lot considering the early hour and the darkness but still an exciting start with music, loudspeakers and a good motivational send-off by the race announcers.

The more races I run, the more I am able to stay in the moment and take in the experience. I was intent on doing that so I specifically recall our first mile where we passed the docks for Alcatraz tour boats and folks were already on line for the first boat of the morning at 06:30. Imagine their surprise, they get up early to go on a boat only to find 15,000 crazy people out there before them going for a morning run!

Fort Mason hill (photo from a previous event)
The first 5 miles up the Embarcadero take in the most famous tourist areas of San Francisco past Pier 39, past the restaurants, past Ghirardelli square and the aforementioned Buena Vista and on up to the Maritime museum. We get our first taste of hills on the Fort Mason hill alongside the bay. Up and over that first hill and we quickly pass the site of the packet pickup and then on to the Marina district. Another simple, flat 2 or 3 miles up to Chrissy field and then it’s time to make our way up to the bridge.

Miles 6 – 10; the bridge. By this time dawn is rising and with daylight we are now able to see ... that we cannot see! Classic San Francisco summer fog was upon us and as we approach the bridge we can hear the fog horns that operate on an automatic cadence based on fog conditions.  Well this day, they weren’t going to be stopping for a while!  As we exit Crissy field we begin the uphill climb through the Presidio streets that will merge us onto the Route 101 bridge access roads shortly before the toll plaza area.  This is a very steep uphill climb and we begin to notice a fair amount of crowd support waiting at the base of the bridge entrance. I look ahead at the bridge and I notice that I cannot even see ¼ up the orange tower and I cannot see the guide cables – fully engulfed in fog.  One of my biggest apprehensions was my fear of heights across the bridge and I was relieved of that worry -- couldn't see 10 feet to either side of the bridge -- great success!

The surface of the road is wet and I can hear some runners commenting that it is raining but as any San Francisco resident knows, there ain’t no rain this time of year. There is such thick fog that droplets are forming in the air plus drops are falling down from the bridge structure to simulate a rain shower. The bridge surface is a fairly steep incline so lots of focus on footing, avoiding some small puddles and generally not slipping on the surface. Once we reach the Marin side we veer right to the vista point for our turnaround and the fog is broken up unveiling a beautiful blue sky above. As we make the turn and look back onto the bridge it is almost surreal how clear and blue the sky is above us because within a few minutes we will re-enter the bridge southbound and be fully engulfed back into the fog.

Miles 11-13; a triple treat: This is a very pretty part of the course through the Presidio along the outer coastline on the San Francisco side. Treat 1 is that we have completed some of the most hilly parts of the course. Treats 2 & 3 are that I will get to see my wife and our grand dog Nala at mile 12 because the race passes 3 blocks from our daughter’s apartment. How’s that for race planning! Bonnie has been at every one of my full marathons and I always look forward to the part of the course where I will see her. It works out well that we are just about at the halfway point and I see her clearly up ahead, I stop for a quick hello kiss and hug and one for Nala too and now I am ready to tackle another 14.2 miles. I even got to share half of Bonnie's cereal bar, I was hungry already!

Miles 13 – 16 are all within Golden Gate park. This is a big place – actually larger in area than New York’s Central Park and this race course lets us see EVERY bit of the park. Since we are still out in San Francisco’s Richmond and Sunset districts we are still very much engulfed in fog for the entire period in the park. We see the finish area for the runners who did the first half marathon and we see the start area for the folks beginning the second half. We pass the bison paddock, the lakes, the beautiful botanical gardens and gradually make our way east – up considerable hill inclines again until we exit the park near the old Kezar stadium.

course map
Miles 17 – 21 take us through the upper and lower Haight districts on our way toward downtown and finally we have crested the midland heights of San Francisco and most of the race will gradually descend now. A byproduct is the weather change as this is one of the dominant fog lines in the city where the fog parts. We see some last wispy low clouds and then bright blue sky and oh wait, what’s that, the sun is out! I distinctly remember that I began to re-sweat if there is such a word. Having been in fog and cold for 2 ½ hours by now my body was pretty much fully drenched in a combination of sweat and dampness but I had mostly regulated to a type of constant body temperature. As soon as we ascended one small neighborhood hill in bright sunshine somewhere near mile 18 I notice profuse sweat coming down into my eyes. By this time in the race my Nike running hat is fully drenched and has no more absorption capability and this new rush of sweat flowed a salty sting into my eyes. I squinted my way to the next water stop so I could flush my eyes and use my wristband to dry them out.

McCovey Cove
Miles 22 – 26.2; let’s play ball. Yep, as luck would have it, the SF Giants were having a 1PM home game at AT&T Park and the early arriving fans became our final home stretch support crowd. There is some desolate area between miles 23 – 25 as we approach the stadium from the south. It was so great that we were in clear sunshine and we could see the city skyline ahead, the Bay Bridge and the ball park. The course takes us along the docks to the front of the stadium and out around through McCovey Cove with fans cheering us on all the way. Like the folks a few hours ago who bumped into 15,000 crazy runners on their way to the Alcatraz tour boat, here these folks thought they would be cheering a baseball game and find themselves spontaneously cheering for us – really great support!

Another 26.2 in blue #wearblueruntoremember.org

The finish line is back on the Embarcadero just about where the start had been. Great fan support now as we run this final hundred yards under the Bay Bridge in bright blue sunshine. My finish time was within the range I had hoped for considering the challenging course.


As my family has come to learn, I get a really good appetite and like a really hearty meal after marathons so my reward was a beautiful gift that Jess and Joe had left for us, dinner reservations at Ruth's Criss steakhouse. All I needed to do was to get myself into an Uber for the ride back to the apartment where I could rest for a while before our early dinner.

Thanks for dinner Jess and Joe and thanks Bon for your support!

Monday, March 28, 2016

The people that we pass

Have you ever noticed ...

This is a short post about observations I make of the people that I pass as I run.  For those of you other runners out there, you know what I mean. The more miles we run and therefore the more time we spend running, the more people we pass. Some are other runners, some folks walking in parks and paths, sidewalks and streets.

Location and setting play an important part of how the social interaction happens between people as well as regional or geographic differences.  In general, when I am training, I like to make a polite acknowledgement of folks.  I think that the Brooks company has a good slogan; "Run Happy" and I like to do just that.  Sure I realize there are situations where it may not be appropriate for folks to acknowledge me but in general, it's a simple social interaction and I generally reach out to people, make eye contact and make a simple "hi" gesture.

Here's my observations of the categories of folks I meet. Something tells me this will be like George Carlin's original list of the 7 bad words you can't say on TV. Once he shared that list, he got feedback to quickly extend the list to over 200!  I welcome your thoughts and comments!

This seem appropriate:

The other runner or person walking toward me who acknowledges my "hi" and responds in kind. Takes little effort, very economical and seems clear these folks are "ok" with the situation. Fortunately, these people are in the majority.

The polite watcher:

This person doesn't attempt to conceal their interest in me as I run by.  They don't ogle or look on in any awkward way, just a polite glance.

The awkward avoider:

This one always confuses me.  Here's the scene -- I am running through a nice suburban park in broad daylight.  There are other people out and about.  I approach another person coming toward me and I make polite eye contact to say "hi". And somehow this person "doesn't see me". They just continue looking straight ahead as if I am not there.  I'm not sure how or why that is possible except that I conclude that it actually takes more effort for that person to "not see me".

The deliberate avoider:

Slightly different than that last one, this person actually "sees" me from a slight distance and then as I approach to pass them, they deliberately turn away. Perhaps shy or uncomfortable but for sure they don't want to engage in any kind of "hi" or "hello".

Do you come here often:

A further variation of the two above, this is another runner who I can recognize from numerous previous outings. Often times, they are a "better runner" than I am (meaning they are at a much faster pace so they perceive themselves to be better). Yet I have seen them enough times that it's clear that we are each "regulars" at this venue. And yet still, they cruise right on past me -- and I am not even there.

Pleasantly surprised:

Whenever I pass someone running with a baby jogging stroller, I make a clapping gesture with my hands to show them that I "get it" and I really respect them for putting in the extra effort. Hey, it's not just the added weight of pushing the stroller but it's all about the effort to get the child out the door, into the car, out of the car, into the stroller, give them a snack, a juice box, a toy, etc. And these seem to be the folks who are most alert, most engaging, always with a pleasant "hi" and when I clap to show my appreciation, they react with a "who me?"

You talkin' to me?:

Yep, this really happens. This is the person that I make a polite "hi" gesture to and they respond by looking behind them, beside them etc. as if to say "were you saying "hi" to me? "there's nobody else here...". "I don't know who else you may be saying "hi" to..."!

The newbie:

This is another person who is new to the activity -- whether another runner or walker, etc.  They haven't quite gotten comfortable with all the nuances and so they are constantly fussing with their gear, their outfit, their course or route, etc.  They are so preoccupied that when passing them, there really isn't a chance for them to acknowledge my polite "hi" because they have so much else going on.

It's like riding a bike:

Ah yes, a parent running along behind, holding the seat to keep the bike upright, all the time muttering words of encouragement (mixed with raging expletives), this is a common sight.  Did you ever notice that when it's not your child and you are personally removed, all the kid needs to do is just pedal and be done with it? Easier said than done. Whenever I see a parent or older sibling helping a young child to learn to ride a bike, I just say a few small words of encouragement to the kid like "nice job, you got this!" or something like that.

They ARE riding a bike:

What a thrill, who knows how long they have been working at it but you happen to run by as a youngster has just taken their first solo bike ride. The look on their face is matched only by the look on their teacher's face.  I applaud, say great job to the kid and congrats to the teacher.

Kicking and throwing:

Mostly in parks but sometimes in local neighborhoods, a soccer ball comes flying at you as you approach or a softball is fouled over the backstop and lands near you.  Unless I am specifically working on timed intervals in my training, I usually take the deviation from my running to return the ball or frisbee.  My favorite is yelling "I'm open" to someone throwing a football just to see if they respond to throw me a pass.  Better yet, catching the pass and continuing to run a few strides to see their reaction!

Dog lovers:

We own a rescue mutt and he's a bit bonkers in the brain so we get it.  I'm always concerned when I come up from behind someone walking their dog not to startle them so I will cough or make some sound to get their attention. I can't get myself to say "left", the running protocol to alert someone that you are coming up behind them ... perhaps I should?

The gadget folks:

Music to your ears:

They make these things called ear buds now, have you seen them?  Some are wired, some are wireless, some go over the ear, some in the ear.  Lots of choices to choose from.  Yet still, there are folks who listen to their music in public places aloud ... no ear buds, nada.  Perhaps they forgot their ear buds or they broke. That could be understandable and quite a nuisance for them. Otherwise, must we all have to hear what you are listening to?

Talking points:

We all have our cell phones with us at all times. Many of us use running apps, music apps, etc. And generally speaking, most of us liberate ourselves from talking on the phone while we are working out, running, etc.  But then there are the folks who just cannot separate themselves from their phone calls and their conversations go on and on and on .....

How these gadgets have simplified our lives ... or not:

The running app and the music app and the podcast app and the audible book app and the GPS watch and the heart rate monitor and the head lamp ... we runners have really gotten ourselves loaded with technology.  Once we have everything figured out, it all works quite seamlessly. But when something is new, phew it can take a bit before we get all the kinks out.  What's worse, stopping every 50 feet to re-adjust something or waddling in a duck-like form while fussing for 1/4 mile, until we get it all sorted out.

So there is my initial list.  I seem to add another one every time I take a run but I will stop and post this for now.  I look forward to your comments and suggestions for more...

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Newport Liberty Half Marathon 2015

Race Recap: Newport Liberty Half Marathon, Jersey City NJ, September 20, 2015

At some point during the summer, my friend Bob invited me to run this race with him. He lives in Jersey City and this would be a nice "local" event for him and one that I could easily join him at.

My training approach

Bob and Bill just before the race
I was already underway with my training for the October 2015 Marine Corps Marathon so I quickly made a few modifications to my plan so that I could incorporate a 13.1 run on the date of this Newport race.  As it worked out, I would already be running 18 mile Sunday long runs by that time so I modified my schedule to use this race as a step-back week and run the 13.1 as a tempo training run.  Bob was doing some training for another half marathon in the fall also so his plan was to use this race to test how far his training had taken him.

Logistics and our support team

Newport section of Jersey City
Since Bob and Susan live in Jersey City, it was a simple plan for us to drive to their apartment, park there and then walk to the start area. Since we live 40 minutes away, Bonnie and I had to start our day a bit earlier but that worked well for my morning nutrition timing as I ate at home and then had driving time for digestion. Bob and I headed over first for packet pick-up and registration. Bonnie and Susan walked over a bit later to be in time for the start.  After the start, they were able to see us at mile 2 before heading back to the apartment for a while where they could look out from Bob and Susan's 10th floor terrace as the race moved over to Liberty State Park. They came back downstairs to see us passing mile 11.5 where I told Bonnie that I was ahead of pace and looking to PR.

Bonnie snapped this at mile 11.5

Weather and general conditions

September can bring some beautiful weather to the northeast but it is a bit of a transition month from the warm humid summer days to the early days of autumn. We actually got a day in the mid 60's with considerable humidity. For us runners, that is a bit warmer than desirable but is was very comfortable for the fans and spectators.

Race recap and course review

As Bob and I have done at previous events, we knew that we would each be running our own race pace so we lined up together at the start area and then quickly separated after the start. Since I was 3 months into training for a full marathon at a 9:45 pace, I  chose to pace myself at 9:00 as an up-tempo training run for this race.

The race course is very flat and offers a real nice opportunity for runners who are looking to PR or just drive a fast pace. The course is an out-and-back route that is half city and half park-like. For the many runners who live and train in this area, much of the park and the harbor-side sections of the course are very familiar, favorite training grounds.  For out-of-town runners, the course offers a nice mix of the city and the park. And for both local and visiting runners, it's always a lot of fun to run down the middle of streets in otherwise busy city districts with fans lining the roads to cheer you on -- somewhat like the privilege of marching in a parade. This course offers a good bit of that.

The race starts on Washington Boulevard, just outside of the Newport Town Square Plaza near the Newport PATH station. For the quantity of running participants, there is good infrastructure in the area for packet pick-up and race staging.  There may have been a shortage of porta-potty facilities for the runners waiting near the start area but isn't that just about always the case?

Newport Half Marathon course map
The course winds through the downtown area from Newport to Grove and then over to Liberty State Park at mile 4.5. The next 6 miles in the park offer exceptional views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan as we pass miles 6 through 10.  Then the course winds back over to the downtown area for the final leg past Exchange Place and back to Newport.

Credit Ken Shelton Photography
I always credit the race photographers who try to position themselves in place to capture great backgrounds in their shots.  Always tricky to do that as the light and shadows tend to move as time spans across the race duration. I was really fortunate that they snapped this shot as I turned a corner at mile 8.5 with the Statue of Liberty behind me.  My friend Bob was merely 2 minutes ahead of me at this point in the race and his photo was from a slightly different angle with no statue -- just the luck of timing.

Despite the warm and humid conditions, I was happy to PR at 1:58. Since I was well along in my training plan for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon a month later, I was confident to go out a bit faster and I carried a sub-9:00 pace for most of the course (save for 1 potty break and water station slow-downs).

The camaraderie of the running community

I have written about this in previous posts. One of the things I enjoy most about running is the people that we get to meet.  Always friendly, alert, funny and bright, and supportive to other runners, I've been fortunate to meet some really great people along the way.  In this race, as Bob and I were well separated and running our own separate pace, I struck up a conversation with another runner near the mile 2 mark. I had just passed Bonnie and Susan and said I would see them again near mile 12 when another runner asked if I had run this race before and whether I lived in the area.  That got us going on a conversation for the next few miles and I came to learn that he (Alex, I wonder if you are reading this as I remember you vividly) was running his first half marathon and he was training to run his first full marathon. Being younger than me -- as most runners are LOL -- but maintaining an 8:50 pace with me, he went out ahead of me after the first water break at mile 4. I saw him again later at mile 8 where the course switches back along the harbor and wished him well. In that short 10-15 minute span that we paced together I got to learn about his family, we discussed the busy schedule of young parents and how to find time to train, how old guys like me already have our own kids that are his age, all kinds of things. Very enjoyable!

Happy Anniversary!

Great location overlooking the harbor
Since we ran this race on September 20th, our anniversary the night before was a quiet one. We always try to grab a meal when we get to visit with Bob and Susan so they had made reservations for brunch after the race. They know Jersey City dining and they chose Satis Bistro, a short walk from their apartment. We had excellent meals and -- of course -- they stealthily took care of the check as an anniversary gift to us.  The weather cleared up beautifully and we took this shot to close out a really great day.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Planning and Running My First Marathon, the 2014 New Jersey Marathon

No, there's no way I'll be running a marathon!

I can still remember saying that to my friend Bob after watching him run the New York City Marathon in 2010. It was my genuine sentiment at the time, I really didn't envision myself running a full marathon, nor did I really want to.

Fast forward a few years and by the end of fall, 2013, I had run a few half marathons and I decided that I would attempt a full marathon the next year. I had just completed running a half marathon in Atlantic City and the atmosphere of running near the New Jersey shoreline was invigorating.

So, where will I be running a marathon?

Now that I had decided to try a full marathon, I began to research potential events.  As I have written about in previous posts, as far as race events go, there are many more small local races (5k being the most popular) followed by some 10k races and then as you increase in distance, fewer half marathons and even fewer full marathons.  The race seasons -- especially in the northeastern US -- are spring and fall. With these facts at hand, I selected the NJ Marathon in April of 2014 to be my first full marathon.

Born to run!

Being born and raised in New Jersey made it extra appealing to run the NJ Marathon -- especially as my first attempt.  The race is run in Monmouth County with a picturesque finish on the boardwalk in Long Branch.  I will describe more about the race itself later in this blog but suffice to say, Bruce's presence is clear at the starting line. And the Monmouth County venue would become uniquely relevant to some life events that unfolded as race day approached -- more on that later.


As I did my research and spoke with other experienced runners, I came to learn that it is mandatory to identify and commit to a marathon training program. I had already done this with the half marathon races that I had run so I was already familiar with the rigors of adhering to the training plan and I was familiar with how my body felt and responded to the training.  What I also came to quickly learn is that for full marathon training, it is not recommended or advised to ever run beyond 18 or 20 miles as the longest training run. So as a first time marathoner, this would mean that the day of the race would be the first time that I was to run the full 26.2 miles. Seasoned runners know all about this, for first-timers, it's interesting news!

I selected a 20-week training program with 4 runs per week, where every Sunday was set as the weekly "long run". In general, the plan increases total weekly mileage and Sunday long mileage on a week-over-week basis. I opted for a popular training approach whereby I would have several "step-back" weeks programmed into the schedule. These weeks allow for body recovery and preparation for each subsequent increase in mileage.  This plan assumed that before I started, I was routinely running long runs of 6 miles and an average of 20-25 miles per week. You can see the "taper period" in the last 3 weeks of the plan. This is instrumental to marathon training but also drives runners crazy!
Seems funny...
but very real!

As I have written about in previous posts, a spring marathon calls for training to begin in the winter months. With an April 27th race date, I began my training program shortly after the New Year in January but I hedged a bit with my full commitment.  I waited until late February to assess how the training was proceeding before I registered. The NJ Marathon is not always a sold-out event so I submitted my registration on February 23rd to secure my position.  Was I really going to do this?

Life events

Here is an interesting runner-geek thing I learned while preparing for this race. Since marathon training lasts so long (4+ months), we runners begin a life cadence around the cycle of training for races. As events in life occur, I find that I store them in my memory according to the respective race plan that I was training for.

The first of these interesting life events to occur while I was training for the NJ Marathon was when I received confirmation to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC that same year. That race is held in October, is one of the largest in the world (25,000 plus runners), sells out every year and entry is via lottery. The lottery applications are in March and I was fortunate to get lottery acceptance on my very first attempt.  Haha, now it appeared that I wasn't just running one marathon in 2014, I would be running two.

The second and third life events during my training plan were much more profound for our entire family.  On March 16th my wife's mom passed after a number of years of illness. Even though she was ill, as we always say, we are never fully prepared for the loss of a loved one and this was a sad event for our family.

And then the third life event. On March 19th, while our family was grieving my mother in law's passing, our nephew tragically lost his life at age 23. Needless to say, we all went through all kinds of emotions and struggles during this time.   Our family and friends held close together to support each other -- especially my wife's brother, his wife and their daughter -- who lost their only son and brother.

Race dedication

My nephew's uniform jersey number
This ties back to the venue for the NJ Marathon in Monmouth County which is where our nephew grew up. He was the most joyful person to be around, vibrant and personable, sensitive and caring.  He was a standout athlete and played his High School sports in Freehold Borough, NJ which is just a stone's throw away from the starting point of the race at Monmouth Race Track.
My race-day shirt to honor my nephew

With his family's approval, I dedicate my run in my nephew's name and I affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monmouth County as the benefactor. My nephew's great grandfather had been the founder of a Boys Clubs chapter in my home town in northern NJ and I felt it appropriate to tie-back to that cause.  It was a modest effort but through my friends and supporters, with only 1 month remaining until race day, we raised $1,000 in his name.

The Race 

Since this was to be my first marathon event, I followed recommendations and decided to stay in a hotel nearby the starting area for the night before. I would need to attend the venue at Monmouth Race Track on Friday to retrieve my race packet and then find an early dinner to relax for the night.  I set my alarm for 05:15 in order to dress and eat (nutrition is key before a marathon) before heading over to the venue at 06:30 for the 08:00 race start.

The race organizers do a great job with coordinating the arrival of runners, parking lot logistics, bathrooms and other amenities.  I had heard so many stories from other runners about the challenges on race day but I was impressed by the organization and their handling of the event.

It is a race track after all...

Monmouth Park
It's only fitting that the start of the race is "The Call To Post", the bugle sound we are all familiar with when we watch the Kentucky Derby on TV every year. But wait, not to be outdone, the bugle call is followed directly by "Born To Run" played VERY LOUDLY over the speakers throughout the track. I told you that Bruce's presence would be felt, especially since he was born and raised in this area.

Race recap

Local streets in Ocean Port
This race course can be easily described in three sections. First of all, we were blessed with beautiful morning weather -- upper 40's and sunshine. Having run a few very large half marathons (Rutgers Unite and Atlantic City), I was familiar with the hype and excitement at the Start so I was able to contain the adrenalin rush and resist the urge to start too fast.  I maintained my pace for the first section of the race. The course begins out very flat as we leave the confines of the Monmouth Race Track.  We traverse lots of local suburban streets where families line up outside their homes as they would if a parade were passing by. This takes us through the first 8 miles in the towns of Ocean Port and Monmouth Beach and into the northern parts of Long Branch.

The Great Auditorium, Ocean Grove NJ.
The second section of the course takes us in a southerly direction through Long Branch and on past Monmouth University.  In one of my last training runs, I had visited this area and run much of this section of the course. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately as the prevailing off-shore breezes would prove), the boardwalk along this section of the New Jersey shoreline was still not yet rebuilt after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy the previous year. From Long Branch down to Asbury Park we run on Ocean Avenue which is a few blocks inland from the shore line and therefore not as picturesque.

We make our way around and across Deal Lake and Wesley Lake into Ocean Grove where we pass directly in front of the Great Auditorium to head down the Ocean Pathway to our turnaround point. At this point, we are at mile 19 and I knew this was the furthest I had run during my training program.  I was feeling considerably sore and just before we went back across Wesley Lake, I turned my ankle in some irregular pavement around a construction area.  Not a good thing as I entered the final 10K (6.2 miles) of the race.
I felt like this guy!

The last section of the race was tough. Not only was I beyond the furthest distance I had trained, we were headed up a mostly steady incline through mile 24. At Brighton Avenue, we turn due east for a few blocks, directly into a headwind. I actually tucked in behind another pair of runners to draft behind them for a few blocks.

My actual finish time
Finally we turned back to he north as we picked up the Long Branch boardwalk.  Things got very picturesque here at mile 25 as we headed for the final 1.2 miles.  For the past few miles there were very few -- if any -- spectators along the roads to cheer moral support. Along the Long Branch boardwalk this began to change and the final 3/4 of a mile was packed with screaming fans.  Along the boardwalk always makes for a great finishing area for races as fans line the interior of the boardwalk and the beach forms the opposing side. I knew that my wife, my son and my younger daughter would be there to see the finish so I had my eyes peeled to see where they were. A few other friends had told me they may be there and I actually heard them call out my name first and then up ahead I saw my family. Since this was my first full marathon and there wasn't an opportunity for them to see me anywhere else along the course, they were curious/concerned with what condition I would be in. So was I, come to think of it!!


My finish time was a modest 4 hours, 47 minutes. I was delighted to have successfully finished the race but also a bit frustrated that I had lost a lot of my pace on those final miles after I turned my ankle in Asbury Park. It was a treat that my family was there to congratulate me and my son did the honors of driving my car all the way home.  I had some cramping symptoms in my legs, I was generally dehydrated -- evidenced by the dry white salt that was caked on my face -- and my GI tract was a bit jumpy from the nutrition gels that I had eaten during the race.  But overall, I held up pretty well and by the time we got home, I had a strong urge for a juicy burger and a beer which we all went out for as soon as I took a long needed shower.

All in all, it was a great accomplishment and my first of what may become multiple more marathon challenges. More about that in other blog posts!

In Loving Memory
Gerry M. Plescia

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sundays are for long runs... and for visiting Mom

Let's try a Half Marathon!

This post is dedicated to my mom, my biggest fan ever.

In my last post, I spoke of slow progression and no master plan.  I spent most of 2011 rehabbing from a nasty spell with ITBS and furthering the changes to my running form.  I was able to do a few local 5K’s in the fall of that year so things were looking up.  I even completed a local Thanksgiving Turkey Trot at a 5 mile distance.  
I was progressing well to these next distances and after some consideration, I began looking into running a Half Marathon. I had already doubled my race distance from 5k (3.1 miles) to 10k (6.2 miles) so why not double again to 13.1 miles! 

As I said in my earlier posts, as you move up in distance, (from 5K to 10K to Half Marathon, etc.) there are fewer of these races and they are strategically placed in spring or autumn. So I found a Half Marathon scheduled at Rutgers University (yes, the site of my first ever 5k charity run) and since I lived and worked very near the campus, this seemed an appropriate venue.  I signed up for the event and my friend Bob -– who had completed multiple Full Marathons by this time -- offered to support me and run the race with me. He was somewhat off of his marathon training cycle and would use this as an opportunity to get back onto his training.

We both registered and I began a 15-week training program from January to April race day.  At times through the training I felt really confident and things were progressing well.  At other times – after a Sunday long training run of 9 miles or so – I would ask myself if it was really possible to reach the 13.1 mile distance.

My training plan

I had selected a training program of running 3 times per week. When it comes to running training plans, there are as many opinions as there are runners. So I won’t get into that debate here except to say that I chose the 3-day plan because I felt I needed at least 1 day off between training days. If you select a 4 or 5 day running plan, you are going to have to run back-to-back days – it’s that 7 days in a week math thing (more to come on this concept in future posts about marathon training).  The plan went well and as with most running plans, the plan included a Sunday long run (this is where you stretch your overall distance toward that goal of 13.1 miles) and two other shorter distances per week where I would run “intervals” and “tempo” runs. Intervals are training runs that alternate faster and slower paces as a way to advance your overall capacity. Tempo runs are very grueling where you run a fairly long distance at a pace that is faster than you plan to run for the Half Marathon.  And then Sunday was the increasingly longer distance week after week.

Visits with Mom

Lots of memories
Right around the time that I began to train for this first Half Marathon, my mom was in declining health and I took the opportunity to do my weekly long runs at a county park nearby where she lived. This was 50 miles from my home but served as a great way to combine my weekly visits with her. On Sunday morning, I would drive to her house for a quick hello (and bathroom visit) and then head out to the county park for my run.  Afterwards I would return to my mom’s house and we would visit. Sometimes I would pick up a pizza or Chinese food to share for lunch. We would often watch the NY Giants games or whatever other NFL games were on TV while thumbing through the Sunday New York Daily News and Sunday Post and talking about the upcoming baseball season.

This map to the left shows the route through the Saddle River County Park system.   To think that I used to go to these parks 30+ years ago to hang out with friends and play frisbee and softball and touch football.

These Sunday visits with my mom were very enjoyable and I am certain had a strong contribution to my evolving enjoyment with running. As I believe happens for other beginner runners, I would enter each Sunday with eager anticipation to get to a new longest distance and then finish the day with new and more nagging discomforts and pains. But with this additional time spent with my mom, the overall tone of my Sundays was overwhelmingly positive. 

Race time

Race week quickly came around and the entire experience of a Half Marathon was a considerable notch above the local 5 and 10K races that I had done.  The Rutgers Unite Half Marathon has over 3,000 runners and so the logistics take on a different scale. Most of these larger races require the runners to retrieve their race packets the day before. Since I live and work nearby to the Rutgers campus, this worked out fine. I arranged to pick up my friend Bob at the New Brunswick NJ Transit station on Saturday afternoon and then we went to the Rutgers campus to retrieve our packets.

Since the race started at 8:00 AM on Sunday, the plan was for Bob to stay at our house Saturday night and then we could head out to the race together on Sunday. A Half Marathon is a considerable step up from my previous longest races and so it was great to have Bob with me to reinforce the discipline in nutrition and hydration on Saturday evening and Sunday morning before the race.

We arrived and found parking on the Rutgers campus on a mild April morning, temperatures in the 40's.  Getting situated into the start corrals was a new experience for me and the nerves and anticipation were growing.  Bob was committed to pacing for me and although this was my first Half Marathon, I was fairly consistent with my Sunday long runs to know that I would strive for a pace just above 9:00 minutes per mile -- this would put me in position to beat the 2 hour mark for the 13.1 miles.

My first Half Marathon, lots more runners than a local 5k!

Did you hear the one about the ITBS?

I won't go into a full race recap here but I will mention that the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon is run in partnership with CGI Racing and they do a phenomenal job.  Support services for the runners are great, hydration stations are well placed and well staffed and the course is a very interesting layout that takes us through many of the Rutgers University campuses from Busch to Livingston, back to Busch and over to New Brunswick for a finish on College Ave.

Things were going very well and Bob continued to notify me that we were ahead of pace through the first 5 miles. With a target pace of 9:05, it seemed that we were cruising at 8:45 - 8:50 and Bob (and I) were concerned that I might outrun my conditioning and "hit the wall".  In fact, keeping this aggressive pace was actually helping me to employ the changes that I had implemented in my running form.  I was focused on a rapid turnover rate -- the pace at which the next foot hits the ground -- as this is one of the best techniques to alleviate the cumulative affect of distance running. 

But then ... as we approached mile 7, I turned to Bob and said "left knee". That was all he needed to hear me say, he knew of my chronic problem with ITBS and we both knew that I had tweaked it.  Sometimes I find that if I lose concentration as the course turns distinctly up-hill, I may not lean into the grade correctly and I hyper extend my left knee in the first few strides of the inclined grade.  Seems that was all it took and here I was, only at the half-way point.  

I insisted on continuing and Bob pushed me to think twice about it.  I told him to go on ahead and maintain his pace but since he was only running the race to pace me, he chose to stay with me to provide support.  Well, in retrospect I should have stopped. As I have explained about ITBS before, it wasn't going to get any better.  Only worse.  ITBS is not like a cramp, it wasn't a case of stopping for a few minutes, doing some stretching and then moving ahead. 

So I forged ahead in considerable pain. Every footfall on my left side would aggravate the ITBS and of course, I was beginning to alter/modify my running form to attempt to alleviate the pain.  Two wrongs don't make a right! This went on for another 3 miles and then the course takes a steep decline down to the Johnson Park area.  I chose to walk down that steep pathway because downhill strides would hurt even more.  Then we pushed on through miles 10 to 12 and I was committed to finish.  I urged Bob to go on ahead -- at least to shoot for the 2 hour mark -- and that I would meet up with him at the finish.  

Wouldn't you know it, my final time was 2:00:52, just a minute off of the 2 hour mark. My wife -- my ultimate cheering section -- was there at the finish to meet us and to capture this picture.  

Then the task of walking back to where my wife had parked her car so she could shuttle us back to the original start line where I had parked earlier that morning. My mom was one of the first people that I called to let her know that I was alive and well.  She congratulated me and said that she was proud of what I had accomplished (good thing I didn't tell her too much about my leg;).

Well the pain in my left knee and leg was pretty bad and I recall a really bad night's sleep.  As I said earlier, I probably shouldn't have finished the race and I am fortunate that I didn't experience any longer-term complications.

I was convinced that I was on the right track with the the changes that I was incorporating into my running form and I was eager to recover from this setback so that I could further that progress. This would be essential if I was going to be able to go on enjoying this crazy sport that I appeared to be hooked on!